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Society | Human rights

Rwanda priest convicted of genocide, rape

afrol News / IRIN, 17 November - A military tribunal in Rwanda has found a Catholic priest, resident in France, guilty of rape and involvement in the 1994 genocide and sentenced him in absentia to life in prison. He was found to have delivered hundreds of adults and children to the genocidal militias, which brutally slaughtered them.

The tribunal handed down the sentence on Wenceslas Munyeshyaka on Thursday in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The absent Catholic priest was sentenced together with a former senior military commander, who was present in the courtroom.

The military tribunal found Mr Munyeshyaka guilty of rape and of aiding militias in the killing of hundreds of Tutsi refugees at the Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Kigali, where he was head priest.

Mr Munyeshyaka had been jointly tried with General Laurent Munyakazi, leader of the army in Kigali's Nyarugenge District, where the church is located.

"Munyeshyaka and Munyakazi worked with militias to deliver hundreds of innocent children, women and men to militias to be killed," Brigadier-General Karenzi Karake, a judge of the military tribunal, told a packed courtroom.

However, the tribunal acquitted General Munyakazi on rape charges but ruled that father Munyeshyaka had, on several occasions, raided halls where refugees had sought shelter at the Holy Family Church complex to pick out young girls and women whom he raped in nearby buildings.

"We will once again request France to extradite Munyeshyaka to serve his sentence in Rwanda," Major Christopher Bizimungu, the prosecutor, said.

Rwanda has accused France of hosting many genocide suspects and of not cooperating in the prosecution of this crime against humanity. An estimated 937,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during the 1994 genocide.

The United Nations in 1994 set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Tanzania's northern town of Arusha, to try the many suspected perpetrators of the genocide that have fled the country. But France has even been unsupportive in extraditing genocide suspects to this UN court.

Besides the UN tribunal regular courts in Rwanda, the military tribunal and Gacaca courts - based on a traditional justice system - have also been prosecuting the tens of thousands of outstanding genocide cases. Rwandan courts have been far more effective than the ICTR in prosecuting war criminals.

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